Novelist, playwright, and memorist Joseph Heller was the author of the celebrated post-World War II novel Catch-22 (1961). His writings include: We Bombed in New Haven (1967), Clevinger's Trial (1973), Something Happened (1974), God Knows (1984), among others; as well as screenplays for Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Casino Royale (1967), Dirty Dingus Magee (1970), and Of Men and Women (1972).

Heller was born on May 1, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, to first-generation Russian-Jewish immigrants. After graduating from high school in 1941, he became a blacksmith's helper at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia, and a year later he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Upon his graduation in 1944, he was sent to Corsica, where he flew sixty B-25 bombing missions over France and Italy before being discharged in 1945. His services in World War II earned him an Air Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation. And his experiences in battle would provide the background for his novel Catch-22.

On his return to the United States, Heller married Shirley Held and started his college education. He received a B.A. in English from New York University in 1948, and a M.A. from Columbia University in 1949. He also attended Oxford University as a Fulbright Scholar, after which he became an English instructor at Pennsylvania State University. Two years later, Heller started his career in publishing as an advertisement copywriter, holding various positions in several magazines, including Time, Look, and McCall's. While working in the publishing industry, he also wrote short stories and scripts for film and television. After its initial success, Catch-22 was turned into a motion picture in 1970. The film was directed by Mike Nichols and starred Alan Arkin as Capitain Yossarian. The film was a box office failure; however, it helped to boost the sales of the paperback edition of Catch-22. The success of Catch-22 prompted Heller to quit his job at McCall's magazine and to concentrate exclusively on his writing. In 1981 he contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that left him nearly paralyzed. However, he was able to continue his writings up to the end of his life. Heller died in East Hampton, New York, on December 12, 1999.

------ Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University

About Birss Memorial Library Exhibition

The Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Lecture and Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Library Fund were established by University alums, Robert Blais '70, to honor Professor John Howard Birss, Jr., nationally recognized for his knowledge of first editions.

The Birss Lecture is an annual lecture series benefiting the humanities programs at Roger Williams University's Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences.